What a cracker.
Oh, yes: superb engine, increased power, better ride, impeccable interior.
Oh dear me, no: horrible tartan fabric, USB hard to get to, iPhone 5 needs a special cable to do anything other than charge.
The exterior is new, although you are hard-pushed to spot the difference. It is true that it is a family hatch, albeit a well-made one but the new model has all sorts of nifty gizmos to tempt the style-conscious bloke.
Although the body and the MQB platform (MQB can be scaled to suit any size of car) are new, most of us will need to study the lights front and back to pick any real difference. Even then you’ll find it hard to spot one model from another. Then again, why would you fiddle too much with one of your most popular cars when it has worked so well for 40 years? It cleverly keeps the prices of the previous model higher in the second hand market.
It feels as solid as a rock, and looks like it costs a lot more than it really does, not that it’s cheap. There has been a price increase because VW opted to put some extras in as standard equipment, then charge you for them. I’m not sure the chassis control system was worth it, though. You can select a harder ride but why would you? With the dampers harder, the cornering doesn’t feel much better.
Overall, I like the styling very much. It is a family hatch that is either to your taste or it isn’t, and some people unfairly compare the Golf GTi to the Toyota 86. The 86 is a 2+2 coupe with 12KW less power and is in a completely different niche. Instead, the Golf gives you four doors and a big boot. There is nothing the chaps hate more than doing an origami act to get themselves into the back seat. The GTi is a bit of a legend, and despite the odd stumble in the past, has been a darling in the “hot hatch” set since the MK I all those years ago.
I’d like to share a quick story if I may. About a million years ago I dated someone who had a diesel MK I in the family. Of course it was Nan’s car and she wasn’t one for stomping her corrective footwear into the carpet so the lack of a turbo wasn’t a problem. I loved that little car but I didn’t love its 37kw. Nan could have walked faster, and she needed a walking frame. The kids started driving it and from there the news was all bad. Despite the maltreatment, the Golf outlasted Nan. It was at this time when one of the kids bought an old MK I GTi that my love affair started in earnest. It wasn’t terribly stylish and even for the time didn’t have a lot in it. It had about 80kw, exactly half the output of the MK VII GTi but felt lively and fun. Little did we know then what VW would do with 20 years up their sleaves. The very GTi was in the family until very recently when the final bell was rung on an unfortunate bend in the Gold Coast hinterland. The MK I is no more.
The point is that it lasted, and it lasted well.
There are MK VII niggles, of course. The new model continues with the god-awful tartan fabric on the seats. I’m not a leather man, which many of you might find surprising, but I’d take leather over the tartan any day. Being German, they say “You mussss not play viss your ‘U ess B’ devissss vile drrrivink’, and to that end have hidden the USB in a cubby hole, under a door, behind the gear lever. There is just no way to get your device plugged in without being double jointed and slipping at least three discs, especially while on the move. I’d also expect keyless start, too, but that’s being picky.
Before we move on to the drive, I’d like to spend a couple seconds on a few things that caught my eye. They are there not because it is easy but because it is camp.
There are red LED backlit strips in the door and dash. The same backlit red LEDs also light up “GTI” in the door sill for when you open the door at night. If that’s not the epitome of wrist flapping and campery I don’t know what is.
Now, for the reversing camera. “There is nothing new in a reversing camera” I hear you say, and you’re right. However, Volkswagen have given the humble rear view camera a bit of pizazz by hiding it inside the handle for the rear hatch. Normally when you press the top of the rear VW badge, it hinges in the middle allowing you to grip under it to pull the hatch open. When you select “reverse” the badge again flips outwards but this time a camera has popped out of its little hidey hole to show what’s behind you. The best bit it is that no matter what schmaltz is thrown at it, the lens stays clean because it is normally concealed. After a day on unsealed roads, you no longer have to schlepp round back to clean off the 3 tons of drek adhering itself rather unattractively to your caboose, and the camera mounted thereon.
The self-parking option was not fitted to our car but is surprisingly handy and may be worth a tick.
The Australian GTi models all have the tricky adjustable chassis control that is a bit of a gimmick in my opinion. The car is so good you’ll never need it. It stiffens the dampers but there is so little body roll that the normal setting does very well most of the time. The firm setting tends to crash uncomfortably over bumps and is completely unnecessary. You can change the setting either by the button on the centre console, or in the infotainment system. By far, the best mode is the one you set for yourself. You’re telling your car how you want it to behave. Instead of selecting pre-set comfort, sports or any number of other variations, you can set the mode to user-defined parameters. Here, you’ll enter the steering, engine, suspension, etc, to exactly what you want. I liked the normal suspension and sports steering and engine.
In the DSG (VW’s brand of automatic that is a double clutch manual and uses two clutches to preselect gears, which… oh, never mind) form, there is a normal and sports setting but both are hopeless. The normal setting races the turbo four engine to the very top gear to keep the fuel figures down. That’s okay if you like chugging round town in top gear but remember you need to spin the turbo up to get your power back. Along with the stop/start, the fuel use is pretty good at an average of 8l/100km combined. However, the sports setting holds gears longer and rarely uses the sixth speed unless on the highway. It’s odd that VW has seven speed in the normal Golfs but only a six speed in the GTi and there appears to be no reason for it. The best bet is to select manual where you can use with the flappy paddles on the rear of the steering wheel, or the gear lever to move your gears as you desire. I find the floor selector the better option in most cases. In fact only the GTi (and its diesel sister) has the paddles.
Changing up, especially while giving it some wellie, causes the engine to give a pleasing little “blip” as the gears change. It sounds fabulous. You find yourself changing gears back and forth just to hear the sound. It’s the only fun you still have without paying Rupert Murdoch for the privilege. And, that fun is happening fast too. The GTi will get to 100km/h in 6.5 seconds whether you have the six-speed manual or the six-speed DSG. It feels fast, but it also feels nippy and that’s the joy of a hot hatch. Even in the dry, the golf can scramble for grip as the torque fights to spin the wheels whether the car is moving or not. The dash lights up as the electronics spank the GTi on the bottom to make it behave. Without the nannies I suspect an average driver such as my good self would find the power difficult to manage.
The claimed fuel figures are fanciful and I’ll say no more on the matter.
The infotainment system is set into the dash surrounded by piano black and soft plastics. It’s very tasteful and elegant. The hi-res screen responds quickly to inputs with some of the buttons at the sides duplicating onscreen options. Joy of joys, the steering wheel buttons are all backlit so no more night time fumbles unless you have someone particularly hot sitting beside you. One thing I really like is the auto-hiding menu bars. In most functions a menu will appear with options for input. After a short while it hides but waving a finger near the screen will bring it forward again. It’s brilliant.
All in all, the 2014 Golf MK VII GTi a fabulously brilliant car. It isn’t flashy and only car people will notice the GTi badge. Queens in the know will give admiring glances, the others aren’t worth knowing. You can easily live with it during the week as you chug back and forth to your IT jobs in the city. On the weekend, you can release that pent up tension by sticking the boot in. And, at dinner parties, you’ll be chuffed to say “GTi” when someone asks what you drive. You will try not to feel superior when you see the glint in their eye as they eagerly text you their digits.
It’s glorious and gets all thumbs, fingers, toes and… never mind, very firmly up.
Would I buy one? Without hesitation, yes.
Would I buy one? Without hesitation yes.
Price: $41,490 manual, $43,990 DSG (plus on-roads)
Engine: 162kW/350Nm turbo 2.0 litre four cyl,
Trans: 6spd man or 6spd DSG
Fuel Econ: 6.2 l/100km manual, 6.6 l/100km DSG